Men would rather walk on broken glass than face an upset woman.                                Pamela Hogan                                                                                                                                                                       

Given all the theories about men and their hard-hearts, I remember the exact moment my worldview flipped upside down. It was late afternoon, my male client was slumped down in a chair, staring at the floor. His wife leaned forward on the couch and demanded, “How is it that you can be so insensitive right now when you are the one who hurt my feelings?!”

Normally I’d launch into my SOP spiel, “Actually Brad, it doesn’t take much to sooth a woman’s hurt feelings. Sometimes all you have to do is reach out and quietly hold her.” But there was something in the look on his face that instead prompted me to ask, “What are you feeling when Jan is distressed?”

Still looking down, he softly answered, “It upsets me when I upset Jan. I never mean to hurt her on purpose, but it seems I just keep failing her.” “Have you told her this?” I asked. “No,” he blurted, “I just want her hurt to stop! Now. But when I try to talk her out of her feelings, I only make it worse. Damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.”

This was a perspective-shifting moment for me in my work with men. I’d always assumed men were stoic and somewhat impervious to a woman’s hurt feelings. So, in addition to uncovering the vulnerability men feel when facing an upset woman, there’s another ironic revelation regarding the hearts of men. Many men are so sensitive to the distress of a woman that they can’t bear to experience the shame -yes, shame- when they hurt a woman’s feelings.  

Men carry a deep primal commitment to keep their woman safe and happy. And if they’re not making her happy, they feel they’re failing in their duty. Here’s the rub. Historically, men haven’t felt permitted, let alone encouraged, to express their own hurt feelings or emotional wounds. Given this restriction, men are ill-equipped to sooth themselves, let alone hold the space while a woman falls apart and weeps. 

We women today insist upon and are accustomed to expressing distress in real time, not tape delay. Being more practiced and willing to feel our pain, we know that with comfort and support, it will subside. Men don’t believe anything will get better if they express their emotional pain. This is why, at this time in history, men are more sensitive to emotional pain than women. Guys, isn’t it time you get off the hot seat and get some credit for being sensitive caring? Look, you already know how to be systematic. Use it! Here are your tools:

Step #1: Get Your Bearings. The second your woman is upset with you, STOP & FOCUS. Get your bearings – identify your typical coping mode: 1) Defensive Mode                                                                                     2) Placation Mode                                                                                         3) MIA (retreat to computer, garage, or gym.)                                                         ~                                                                                                       Step #2: Report Your Position. Report your emotions candidly to your woman. When you’re upset:                                                                       1) I feel distressed. I care – your unhappiness is upsetting to me.               2) I feel helpless. I don’t know what to do or say to make this better.       3) I feel guilty; like I’m failing you.                                                            4) I feel misunderstood. I would never intentionally hurt you.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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